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DAC3 Review - John Gatski, Everything Audio Network

DAC3 Review - John Gatski, Everything Audio Network


Everything Audio Network logo

DAC3 HGC - "More Space, Increased Precision"

The Benchmark DAC3 is the first product to ship with the new ESS Technology ES9028PRO D/A converter chip.

ES9028PRO D/A converter chip

The Benchmark DAC3 is the first product to ship with the new ESS Technology ES9028PRO D/A converter chip. 

Benchmark DAC3 HGC - Audio D/A Converter

"It may look like the DAC2 HGC, but the new DAC3 HGC offers a slew of better measurements and more notably, an incremental boost in sound quality."

"Via headphones I definitely could hear more space around the instruments and an increased precision in transients — like cymbals and upper-register piano notes."

"In terms of new functions, the DAC3 switches a lot faster between inputs, and gone is that audibly phasy transition when you initially switch between two digital sources."

"Audible Improvements"

"Though audible improvements in DACs these days are mostly subtle, Benchmark delivers a new, audibly superior version over the DAC2, plus added a few ergonomic upgrades, such as faster source switching. It does not look any different, but it certainly sounds different."

" I deployed the DAC3 HGC into my audiophile system, which consisted of MartinLogan Montis speakers, Pass Labs X350.8 amp, and Benchmark’s ultra-quiet AHB2 bipolar output amplifier. I used the DAC3 as a preamp, and as a DAC through my Rogue Audio RP-5 tube preamp. Sources included a TASCAM DA-3000 hi-res player/recorder, an Oppo BDP-105, an ASUS Android tablet with USB Audio Player Pro in the bit perfect mode, connected by USB 2.0; and a Macbook Pro laptop using Audirvana Plus."

"With this new ESS chip that low-end “over warmth” is gone. The Anthony Wilson Trio title cut’s kick drum, and the midbass organ imprint was leaner, tighter and clearer. This allows the articulation of the air around the guitar notes and the cymbals to emerge to a proper balance."

"I immediately noticed the improvement when A/B’ing the DAC3 and the DAC2. And it was confirmed by headphones, as well as line output through the preamp/amp path. I don’t know what ESS did in its new chip, or whether Benchmark tweaked the analog; or it is a combination of the two, but the emerging audio detail was more balanced than the DAC2."

"And that is really the essence of the sonic improvement of the DAC3; the precision and air inherent in good recordings is noticeably improved with the DAC3. All my reference Pop and Jazz ensemble, piano recordings, acoustic guitar and nylon classical guitar recordings sound more dimensional and alive."

"By the way, one other area of improvement for the DAC3 is its switching speed from one digital source to another... It was always hard to accurately discern real differences when A/B listening through the DACs because the new sources always sounded different than the previous source. With the DAC3’s super fast PLL and switching relays, the DAC3 is pretty much an A/B switch."

"The Verdict"

"As with the original DAC1 and DAC2, Benchmark proves it can take advantage of the latest DAC chip technology and notch up the performance of its latest version D/A, the DAC3."

"Though audible improvements in DACs these days are mostly subtle, Benchmark delivers a new, audibly superior version over the DAC2, plus added a few ergonomic upgrades, such as faster source switching. It does not look any different, but it certainly sounds different."

EAN Product of the Year 2016 logo

"Although it came out late in the year, the DAC3 was worth waiting for, and it receives the EAN Stellar Sound Award and a last-minute slide into the Everything Audio Network Product-of-The-Year Award in the DAC category."

EAN Stellar Sound Award 

John Gatski, Publisher, Everything Audio Network

Read the full review →

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